Opinion: Sustaining UK visitors is a big task for the Big Apple

Opinion: Sustaining UK visitors is a big task for the Big Apple

Danny Rogers, editor, PR WeekJust over a year ago, I wrote about how mayor Michael Bloomberg’s plans to bring 50 million visitors a year to New York could come unstuck because of underinvestment in the city’s infrastructure.

Now Bloomberg’s targets look ambitious for rather different reasons.

On a recent trip to the Big Apple – which tied in with president Obama’s inauguration – the city felt dramatically different.

Okay, immigration was more efficient – even friendly – and the roads were clearer, but these pleasant discoveries could be the result of a short-term tourism slump.

According to the latest figures, NYC tourism is on a roll. In 2007, the city lured 46 million visitors, a 5% increase on the previous year.

Almost 1.25 million of these visitors came from the UK, its biggest international market by a long way. But a lot has happened since the end of 2007.

First, domestic visitors have been hit by the biggest recession for 70 years. Second, back in December 2007, UK visitors were getting $2 for every £1. Today they are lucky to get $1.40.

Meanwhile, airlines, such as Silverjet and MAXjet, which offered great deals to us Brits, have gone bust.

Another challenge for attracting UK visitors has been the shortage of attractive hotels in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

To be fair, this is gradually being addressed. At the premium end of the market, boutique hotels such as Soho House New York – one of the best hotels I’ve stayed in – are offering great deals.

And many of the successful hotel chains – such as InterContinental – are developing new properties in Brooklyn for 2010.

The Metropolitan subway system is another matter, however, even managing to feel more forbidding than London’s Northern Line on a Friday night.

Bloomberg has some cause for cheer. President Obama has brought a definite feel-good factor to the US.

And the incredible story of the US Airways pilot who landed his aircraft in the Hudson river – which coincided with my icy arrival at JFK – was a reminder of the professionalism and integrity inherent in the American psyche.

It is no coincidence that Bloomberg – a PR natural throughout his career – was quick to decorate the pilot. But he is going to need all his marketing nous to steer New York through its most challenging tourism climate since September 2001.

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